The CH Precision upgradable/expandable C1.2 DAC/Controller (and the D1.5 transport)
By Roy Gregory
Review a product – any product – and you are faced with two questions: what does it sound like and why? Neither is as straightforward as it seems. How it sounds is a function not just of the product itself but the system context in which it finds itself. Why it sounds the way it does? That largely comes down to speculation. There may be novel technology or circuitry, silver bullet componentry (often old or NOS) or even magic fairy dust for all we really know. Even given a product as topologically simple as a tube power amp, it is dangerously deterministic to start ascribing particular performance attributes to specific aspects or elements in its design. With a product as complex as a DAC, especially one with built in control and switching options, it’s generally a fools errand. Yet, despite that, the CH Precision C1.2 DAC/Controller offers us an unusual chance to ‘look under the hood’. In doing so it offers an interesting perspective on digital electronics and the way in which they are so often perceived.
The thing that creates this opportunity is the nature of the C1.2 itself. Like all CH Precision products, its construction is based on a modular card cage design. It’s an approach that allows the company to utilise the maximum number of common parts across its product line, especially the cost critical casework. That commonality extends past the chassis to the front-panels, which leads to a range of components that look almost identical to the uninitiated eye. So, outwardly at least, the C1.2 DAC/Controller, D1.5 Player/Transport, L1 Line-stage and I1 Integrated Amplifier look all but identical.
But there’s more to the modular/card-cage model than consistent outer appearance. The internal arrangements mean that products can be physically upgraded with new parts or key circuitry whilst still retaining the vast majority of their mechanical construction. Nowhere are the benefits of that approach more apparent than with the C1.2. So to really appreciate the opportunity the new DAC presents, both in performance and perspective terms, it’s necessary to step back a generation to the preceding model, the original C1…
A brief history of time (and space)…
The C1 DAC/Controller was the second product that CH Precision launched, over 10-years ago. It followed the D1 CD/SACD player/transport and established both the company’s ‘common look’ and its configurable approach to product design. The D1 had offered a range of optional capabilities or connections (stereo or dual mono internal DACs for anything up to discrete 5.1 replay, as well as an external clock connection) but these were all based around it’s single, disc replay functionality. The C1 took that versatility and user configurability to a whole new level. Owners were able to specify the number and nature of digital inputs (including USB and Ethernet options), the clock connectivity and even choose whether to include analogue inputs. In addition, the unit could be configured as either a fixed output DAC or as a Controller with a variable output, making it a genuine digital/analogue control unit (rather than simply a DAC with a digital volume control). What’s more, any or all of those options could be added or changed in the field, at any juncture, allowing the C1 to adapt to the changing requirements of its owner and his (or her) system.